As cars rolled into a parking lot off North Avenue in Baltimore on Saturday afternoon, a group of teens eagerly approached. They soon got to work with hoses, sponges and buckets of soapy water.
The teens were part of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Squeegee Corps, a program launched this summer to employ the “squeegee kids” who wash windshields in the streets for tips.
“They have the entrepreneurial spirit, and they’re out here trying to earn money to meet their needs, just like any other individual,” said DeJuan Patterson, who works in Pugh’s office and is coordinating the program.
Since this summer, the corps has taken part in a series of “pop-up” car washes in the city. On Saturday, they worked outside the Impact Hub in Station North, a co-working space and community center. They charged $10 for cars, $15 for SUVs, and $5 for a special window treatment.
The point isn’t to train kids to wash cars, Patterson said, but to use the car wash events as a means to teach them business and life skills.
Sixteen-year-old Isaiah Turner said he started “squeegeeing” in the streets when he was 11. He learned how to stay on his feet, he said, and work fast.
“Some people don’t like when you move slow, so you gotta keep the fast pace with you at all times,” Turner said, snapping his fingers.
The teen said teamwork is a big part of the Squeegee Corps.
“I've learned that sometimes it takes more than one person to help you do something,” he said. “We always work as a team.”
The program now has several corporate sponsors — Lyft, Pepsico and Grant Capital Management.
Participants attend workshops at City Hall with topics like financial literacy, sales skills and conflict resolution, Patterson said. They have also heard from guest speakers such as attorneys and business people.
The young window washers often draw complaints from motorists, and Patterson said he has seen drivers become belligerent toward the squeegee kids.
“We often hear about the negative interactions that the youth are doing toward drivers, but the squeegee youth will express to you how some drivers actually are aggressive and hostile toward them,” Patterson said.
To recruit members, “we went to the corners,” Patterson said. “These youth recognize that time is money. So we actually would … donate a dollar to them while we were talking to them out of our own pocket.”
Johnathan Heggie, 18, said he made $100 a day as a squeegee boy.
Now as a member of the Squeegee Corps, he has used the money he’s earned washing cars to pay bills and to pay for studio space, where he raps.
“I want to go to college so I can really be an entrepreneur,” he said.
Earle Penn Jr. was among the customers Saturday. His teen granddaughter belongs to the Squeegee Corps, which he believes “keeps them out of trouble.”
“It’s been well-needed,” Penn said of the program.
Ronald Robinson, 19, said he didn’t quite believe it when someone approached him about the opportunity to participate in the program.
“Now we’re really doing it,” he said.